By Eve Marx, Record Review
"There's nothing like a handwritten note," said Laura Marks, a proprietor of Fine Lines of Katonah, the printing service, stationer, wedding planner, and gift shop. In September the store celebrated its 20th year of doing business in the hamlet of Katonah. And after all this time, Ms. Marks believes there's nothing as special as handwritten correspondence.
Fine Lines opened for business in 1995. "I knew the town because my children attended Katonah Playcare," Ms. Marks said, on a recent quiet Thursday morning in her store on Katonah Avenue. "We lived in Mount Kisco, but I knew I wanted to open a stationery store in Katonah, and then an opportunity came up." Fine Lines originally opened in the space now occupied by the children and infant shop, & James.
"I opened the store when my younger son David was in preschool at Playcare. It was fun because I'd close for 15 minutes when his session was over, and I'd bring him back to the store. We had tons of toys in the store at the time. That was the beginning," she said.
Business took off quickly because it was the heyday of the printed invitation.
"People used to send printed invitations to everything," Ms. Marks reminisced. "It was a great time for fine stationery, and very soon after we opened, my husband, Barry, joined me in the business full time. Bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, cocktail parties, divorce parties, day after brunches. Every event in those days had a printed invitation. And since it was the beginning of the years of the home computer, we also sold tons of laser friendly paper, so people could print their own invitations."
In 1999, needing more space, Fine Lines decided to make a move up the street.
"Then came the big flood, the hurricane," Ms. Marks said, referring to tropical storm Irene, which caused devastating flooding in the central business district. "We had just moved in a few months earlier when the hurricane hit. We had invested in this new store and then we were washed away."
She described the harrowing experience of being inside the store with her husband when the water came crashing in. "We were trying to put our design books on a table because water was starting to leak inside. Then the water crashed through the front window. We ran to the back of the store, but we couldn't get out, the water level was so high. We climbed a staircase that went up to a balcony and we were temporarily safe. We called the police but they said they couldn't get to us. It was terrifying."
Finally, the couple was able to escape out of the back of the store, but their ordeal wasn't over yet. "We swam down to Bedford Road. I'm not much of a swimmer, but Barry had been a lifeguard. I remember swimming through the water and Barry warning me to watch out for a completely submerged car." They made it safely to the Katonah firehouse, got a change of dry clothes, took shelter at the ambulance corps, and eventually found their way to one of their cars to drive home.
Ms. Marks said it took strength and courage to reopen the store. For six months, they ran their business from a temporary location while their building underwent repairs. "When the water crashed in, the floor collapsed and we had to rebuild the floor. It was a devastating event, but it never occurred to us not to continue. We loved our business and we loved being in this town." The strong community support they received helped pull them through, she said.
The perennial importance of the handwritten note helped nurture their business back to health. "If you're interviewing for a job at Morgan Stanley, you're going to send a handwritten note," Ms. Marks said. There's also thank you notes, condolence notes. Parents still do teach their children that in many circumstances, an email note is just not correct."
"The handwritten note is very important. It shows thoughtfulness," says Ms. Marks. To that end, Fine Lines sells boxed stationery and printed programs, place cards for weddings and menu cards.
The demand for personalized, printed invitations, especially for "big milestone events" such as weddings and bar mitzvahs is also a business mainstay, she said. "The handwritten envelope is the one that catches your eye," she said. Also she added, "People like to distinguish themselves with paper; they like to see it and feel it and have a conversation about the printing process. We very much guide our customers through the entire process of creating a custom invitation. We explain all the options, and if they have a theme, we help them design something to suit their vision."
The store also carries journals, pens, gift wrap, ribbon, gift bags, and an assortment of hostess gift items, such as soaps.
After 20 years, Ms. Marks said, the relationship with long-standing customers are what truly stands out.
"I feel like my customers are my friends. I have the same customers who come in again and again. It may start with a wedding and then the bar and bat mitzvahs. We've become a part of people's families."
Even families that have relocated halfway around the world reach out for help with invitations and printed stationery. "We hear over and over, 'We couldn't do this without you.' We have customers who have moved to Hong Kong and Italy, but when they need a printed invitation, they still call us. They know they can trust us to create anything from a printed invitation to a birth announcement to a holiday card, and help them convey the message they want to send out."
In January 2014, Barry Marks passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. "I'm very happy that we are able to carry on what we started," Ms. Marks said. "I think Barry would be very happy to know that we're still doing it."